In case there is any doubt in your mind, the Christian Science Monitor really really doesn’t want anyone to consider regulating the third-most popular recreational substance in America. In 2009 they were warning us that letting cancer patients puff a doobie to ease the pain and nausea of chemotherapy leads to the inexorable decline of Western Civilization in “A federal misstep with medical marijuana?” and “Legalize Marijuana? Not so fast!”
In 2010, their fears are realized as California seeks to tax and regulate marijuana, so just three weeks ago they penned “Marijuana legalization? A White House rebuttal, finally” where they praise drug czar Gil Kerlikowske’s ability to regurgitate the same tired old lies with a straight face.
Now they have another editorial posted, “Benefits from a marijuana tax? California is dreaming.” In it they trot out Rosalie Pacula’s testimony that challenged the $1.4 billion tax benefits estimated in Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s legalization bill by the California Board of Equalization. Never mind that they’re opposing the citizen’s initiative to regulate marijuana, not Ammiano’s bill. Reefer madness is fungible.
One of the highly questionable assumptions is that a legal market can sustain a proposed $50-an-ounce tax on marijuana. The black market can easily undercut that tax, siphoning sales away from legal distributors and eroding tax revenues.
In the citizen’s initiative, local governments are to decide whether they wish to allow cannabis sales and whether they wish to tax that. It would certainly be less tax revenue than the statewide $50/ounce proposed under the Ammiano bill.
But so what? Is there an amount of tax revenues earned where the Christian Science Monitor would support regulation of a $15 billion dollar illicit market? Probably not.
I’ve argued before about this, but I’ll say it again: whatever tax revenue is earned by regulating cannabis will be greater than what we’re earning now – zero! – and even greater when you consider the savings in law enforcement. But, a-ha, the CSM has thought about that and decided that even though it would raise money, the costs of regulation would exceed the revenues.
America’s experience with alcohol and tobacco shows that health, lost productivity, and law enforcement costs far exceed tax revenues. These industries have not managed to keep their products from young people. A legal pot-smoking age of 21 would similarly fail to keep this drug away from youth.
Alcohol and tobacco are deadly and addictive. Of course these substances have severe health costs! Of course alcohol that gets you hung over leads to lost productivity! Of course alcohol that leads to violence and drunk driving exacts a toll in law enforcement costs! So what does this have to do with non-toxic herbal cannabis? Or is the CSM arguing that we need to return to Alcohol Prohibition and add Tobacco Prohibition as well, since they cost society so much?
Why are the arguments against regulating the third-most popular substance not arguments for prohibiting the first- and second-most popular substances?
The cost of cannabis smoking, whatever it is, is being borne by our society now, and we’re adding on the enormous costs of criminal prohibition, which generates more law enforcement costs than regulation possibly could and enriches violent criminal in the process. 2.3 million Californians are smoking pot now, 73 years of prohibition have done nothing to stop them, the only question now is whether the market is regulated or not.
We’ve seen what happens when it is unregulated: 85% of teens consistently tell us that it is “easy” to get marijuana. Nobody knows the purity and potency of that marijuana. The guy who gets the teens the marijuana might have hard drugs for sale, too. The marijuana costs so much that it’s profitable for the teens to deal it themselves to cover their cost of use.
Does the CSM argue that more than 85% of teens will find it “easy” to get marijuana when a local government requires a regulated store with a licensed clerk to check that teen for ID? And since they depended on Pacula’s testimony that the price of cannabis would plummet, doesn’t that mean the profit motive for teens to deal pot plummets, too?
And then there are the costs that will be incurred with increased use – and legalization will drive use.
These costs relate to treatment of dependency (over a third of self-reported users of marijuana in the past year are dependent), missed and tardy work, drugged driving accidents, and increased crime.
Will legalization drive use? There are already 2.3 million Californians using cannabis now, so how many more are sitting there in California not toking now but rarin’ to go once it is regulated? And why are they waiting, when they live in a state where they can pay a doctor to get a medical card and possess up to and over eight ounces, rather than the one ounce they’d be allowed under regulation?
And this notion that one-third of tokers are “dependent” must be examined. The Institute of Medicine concluded that only 9% of cannabis users are clinically “dependent”. The CSM is relying on Pacula’s testimony that cites a 2004 study by Compton et al that declared 35% of tokers to meet the DSM-IV criteria for “marijuana dependence”. Let’s look at those criteria:
A. Has the individual experienced the following?
- Tolerance—discovering less effect with same amount (needing more to become intoxicated)
- Withdrawal (characteristic withdrawal associated with type of drug)
- Using more or for longer periods than intended
- Desire to or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use
- Considerable time spent in obtaining or using the substance or recovering from its effects
- Important social, work, or recreational activities given up or reduced because of use
- Continued use despite knowledge of problems caused by or aggravated by use
B. Have these positive items been present during the same 12-month period?
Apologies beforehand to Jeff Foxworthy, but…
- If you don’t get as giggly off of just one puff like you did when you first toked…
- If feel like you’d like to smoke a joint when you don’t have one…
- If you ever lost track of time when you got high…
- If you don’t really want to stop smoking pot…
- If it’s hard for you to score a dimebag because the damn stuff’s illegal…
- If you lost a job because they tested your pee…
- And you think you ought to be able to smoke pot even if others want to punish you for it…
…then you might be a “marijuana dependent”. How can we ever accurately measure whether someone is “marijuana dependent” when these criteria are exacerbated by its illegality?
Also, the notion that marijuana use leads to missed and tardy work and driving accidents makes a great argument for prohibiting alcohol, doesn’t it? And how exactly does crime increase when 2.3 million Californians will suddenly no longer be criminals? Is anyone really terrified that the guy who smokes a joint at home now illegally is going to become a raving criminal when he can smoke a joint at home legally? Who are these
The prohibitionists are desperate and their arguments are beginning to reflect that. RAND’s Rosalie Pacula’s testimony actually celebrates that prohibition keeps the price of marijuana high, 400% higher than its production cost, because that high price helps curb the demand from teens. That’s the high price that provides 60% of the income for the murderous drug syndicates that have tortured, beheaded, acid-bathed, massacred, and executed 18,000 people in Mexico in three years. How many dead Mexicans does it take to keep pot out of kids hands? Because after 18,000 and prohibition-inflated prices, 85% of them still find it easy to get pot.
While it is fun for me (like a cat batting about a shocked and injured mouse) to keep tearing down these prohibitionists’ arguments, it is crucial to remember the central point they are arguing in support of: fining, arresting, and locking up people, taking away their property and their children, costing them their housing and their jobs, and giving them a scarlet letter for the rest of their lives because they choose to grow, dry, and smoke a non-toxic herb that relieves pain, spasticity, and seizures, a plant that enhances senses, improves appetite, and makes its users slightly euphoric and passive. Regardless of tax revenues, medical utility, and potential for harm, we must ask the Christian Science Monitor… what’s so Christian about locking people up over something God gave to them “for meat“?